Saturday, 26 November 2011

2012 TBR Pile Challenge

I don't easily commit to reading challenges, because usually it goes like this: I love to make up my mind about the books I want to read for a particular challenge, I enjoy coming up with a list of books I want to read, I am overly enthusiastic about reading the books in the next year. BUT as soon as it comes to reading I get distracted, something different strikes my fancy and I wander off reading everything else except the books on my list.

It's no big secret that this is the same with books I bought with the intention to read them "next". What I need is this challenge hosted by Adam. I commit myself to reading 12 determined books I owned for more than one year but have not read yet. Here is my list (incuding 2 alternates and year of publication):

1. The Rain Before it Falls by Jonathan Coe (2007)
2. The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood (2009)
3. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (2010)
4. Blindness by José Saramago (1995)
5. The Gathering by Anne Enright (2007)
6. The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai (2006)
7. I know why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (1970)
9. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (2000)
10. Shanghai Girls by Lisa See (2009)
11. The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant (2003)
12. Lizard by Banana Yoshimoto (1993)

My two alternates:
1. Two Caravans by Marina Lewycka (2007)
2. Wildthorn by Jane Eagland (2009)

As I make progress I will link the titles to my reviews. Wish me luck because I will give away one book from those I managed to read in 2012. Egligable for winning will be readers of my blog who comment on my reviews of those books as I go.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Thoughts: Geisha of Gion by Mineko Iwasaki

This is the memoir of Mineko Iwasaki, one of Gion's most famous Geishas. She introduces us to her story starting at the very beginning of her childhood, still living with her parents and siblings. Soon she learns that some of her sisters have been adopted by an okiya, a Geisha house, because her parents were not able to feed so many hungry mouths.
But Mineko decides to follow her sisters into the okiya, because she is spellbound by this secretive world, which is inhabited and ruled by women only. She is to become first a maiko, an apprentice Geisha, and then a real geiko, which is the name of a Geisha in Gion, the best known Geisha district not only in Kyoto but Japan.

I have read Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden and this book was in many ways similar to Golden's book. But there are differences especially in the way the story is told. Though Iwasaki claims to be the first Geisha to tell her story, I felt like she was holding back, I felt like she wasn't giving me the whole thing. That is because she tells the reader all the training was hard, or she decides to be adopted by the okiya and leave her family, or that all the other girls were jealous as she became a well-known geisha but she never tells what it felt like, she never says she was sad, lonely or exhausted.
On the other hand I am fascinated. Geishas are exotic strangers who are paid to be perfect entertainers with skills in music, dancing, singing and conversation. They live in a secretive world full of intrigue and jealousy, which makes it all the more interesting to read about.

If you are interested in the training of a Geisha in our modern times, I recommend the BBC documentary Geisha Girl, following 15-year-old Yukina as she leaves home and moves to Kyoto to embark on the arduous training needed to become a geisha. Here is a link to the first part on youtube:

If you can't get enough of the Geisha world read this book.

I read this book for the JLC5.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Venice in February. I'm in!

Venice in February is a new Reading Challenge not unlike Paris in July. It's all about reading books about Venice, a doomed but magical place. The challenge is hosted by Snow Feathers and Dolce Bellezza, who already put a lot of work into this project as they created a site for the event with book suggestions. For all of us readers who wouldn't know where to look for books about Venice that's the place to go.

So I'm planning to participate in February. But what am I going to read? It turns out I already have a book in my tbr pile that would fit.

In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant

And this one sounds intriguing. It's about a woman who leaves her grown up kids and job as a food critic to follow her love. My library has it, too.

A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena de Blasi

If there is time and a way I can lay hands on this book, I would love to read this one, too.

A Venetian Affair by Andrea de Robilant

What do you think? Are you going to participate? Have you read any of the books mentioned above?

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Thoughts: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Louis Zamperini was a promising tracker in his young age. Already successful during the Olympic Games in 1936, he was determined to get gold in the next Games. But in 1942 the world faces second world war and Louis serves in the Air Force. The Us and Japan are fighting over authority in the Pacific Ocean. One day in 1943 a US bomber crashes in the ocean, leaving only debris, a raft and three crew members among them Louis Zamperini. As they are drifting in the ocean they face leaping sharks, thirst and starvation and enemy aircraft. But beyond all that only a greater trial awaits the men. Louis and his friend Phil have to endure imprisonment in a Japanese POW camp and suddenly all that counts is to get through unbroken.

The book served as an eye-opener for me. I was not aware of the cruelty and the dehumanizing treatment the Japanese inflicted on their prisoners of war. And I was not aware that a human body, soul and mind is able to live through it.

Laura Hillenbrand doesn't hold back. I was overwhelmed by her writing as she made a perfect little package in form of a book, filled with Zamperini's story, which is a true one by the way, and hurled it at the innocent me. I was hit hard and am not willing to forget very soon.

Monday, 14 November 2011

It's Monday! What are you reading?

Since my last Monday post I read:

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (click for review)
The Bone Garden by Tess Gerritsen (click for review)
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (will review tomorrow)
Geisha of Gion by Mineko Iwasaki (will review this week)
The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox (click for review)

Now I am reding Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, which won the Booker Prize in 2009. I am a little obsessed with reading the Booker Winners as a personal challenge. So far I like the book but I'm sure it will still take me some time to finish as it is a real chunk. My edition has over 650 pages.

As soon as I have finished Wolf Hall, I plan on reading Juliet, Nacked by Nick Hornby. I adore Hornby and make sure to read his newest books occasionally.

After that (or even before) I'll be reading Alison Wonderland by Helen Smith, who was so kind to send me the book for review. Thank you, Helen.

Have you read or plan on any of those? Did you enjoy them?

It's Monday is hosted by Sheila from Book Journey.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Thoughts: The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell

Iris Lockhart is a young and independent woman who has both feet firmly on the ground. Nothing points to a dark family secret that could affect Iris' life until a letter arrives asking her to come and get Esme Lennox, Iris' great-aunt, from a mental hospital because the institution is going to close. But Iris doesn't know about a great-aunt who lived like a prisoner, locked up in a psychiatric ward, for over sixty years. The alleged mistake soon turns out to be a family tragedy that began in Edinburgh in the 1930s, when Esme and her sister Kitty, Iris' grandmother, were still girls in a marriageable age.

Esme was a wild, unsociable girl with lacking manners, perturbing Kitty's chances to find a husband. Is it really possible that under those circumstances the family got rid of Esme institutionalizing her? Or were there some more disturbing reasons for this decision?

I enjoyed reading Esme's story and getting to know what really happened to her from her early childhood living in India with her parents and sister until her being locked up back in Scotland. O'Farrell cleverly divided the narrating of the story between her characters. The reader gets an insight in Iris' private life as well as Esme's routine in the ward and as Kitty is supposed to be an old woman with Alzheimer's disease now, we get snippets of her recollections in no chronological order always accompanied by a tone of guilt.

It is really amazing how much this little book has to offer. Apart from a family mystery and betrayal, the author fit in a (I'll quote Linda) "holy cow ending". First I wasn't sure I really got what happened but after rereading the ending I made up my mind. I think this book would really work well in a book club because I feel the urge to discuss it myself. It seems that it was quite common for family's to edit out the life of certain family members if they didn't fit in anymore, just like in Jane Eyre. The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox is like a Victorian novel but set in present.